SEATTLE -- Seattle Coach Chuck Knox hasn't slept well this week and won't, he admits, until after Sunday's game against Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions is over.
The Seahawks, 8-7, need a win over the Lions and a loss by either Cincinnati (against Cleveland) or Houston (by Pittsburgh) to earn a wild-card berth in the playoffs. If they lose, they would still advance if both Cincinnati and Houston also lose.
The spoiler's role is perfect for the Lions, who are 6-9 and have won their last two games. They have one of the league's worst defenses, but they can outscore you with a run-and-shoot offense built around Sanders.
As other coaches have done during the past two years, Knox has spent a painful week watching film of the former Heisman Trophy winner. He knows if anyone can smash Seattle's playoff hopes Sunday, it is Sanders.
'He can be anightmare,' Knox said of Sanders, who leads the NFC in rushing with 1,281 yards. 'No doubt he's the best running back in the NFL. He has great quickness, great lateral cutting ability and he's very competitive.'
What makes coaches tear their hair out is that they can't load up to stop Sanders because he runs out of a passing scheme.
'With Barry,' said Lions coach Wayne Fontes, 'people have learned they have to stack the line to stop him, which makes our passing attack better. We've seen some six-man fronts try to stop him. If they play the pass, then we go back to Barry.'
Fontes said he's never seen a running back like Sanders in his 16 years in the NFL.
'What sets him apart from the other great ones is his vision,' said Fontes. 'During a game, you see him make a cut and you say, 'Why did he do that?' Then you look at film and you realize he sees things happen before they actually do happen. That puts him out there all by himself as a great back.'
The Seahawks have had their problems against some of the league's top back, although they rank fourth in the AFC in fewest rushing yards allowed.
Denver's Bobby Humphrey ran for 129 and 91 yards in two games against Seattle; San Diego's Marion Butts totaled more than 200 yards in two games, including 128 yards in a November game; Chicago's Neal Anderson burned Seattle for 101 yards; and Hershel Walker broke a 58-yard run late in the fourth quarter to lead Minnesota to a 24-21 win in the Kingdome.
The Seattle defense has improved in the second half, a remarkable achievement considering its problems at linebacker. Seven linebackers have been on the injured list this season, and six are still sidelined. Of the six linebacker that started the season, only middle linebacker Dave Wyman is healthy. And he missed the first eight games.
The Seahawks must be hoping their offense, which has had trouble scoring of late, can get well against the Detroit defense.
Knox undoubtedly will try to keep the ball out of the hands of Sanders and Rodney Peete by running against a defense that is yielding a league-worst 4.5 yards per carry.
Derrick Fenner (784 yards) and John L. Williams (661) aren't quick, but they are big backs who can wear defenders down.
Knox would like nothing better than to keep quarterback Dave Krieg out of long-yardage passing situations, where Krieg has had a tendency to make mistakes. He has thrown 18 interceptions and has lost six fumbles. Four of the turnovers were returned for touchdowns.NEWLN: adv. weekend, dec. 29-30